Are leaders born or made? Well, we could all probably bring to mind someone we consider to be a “natural leader”, but there are now many leadership models which challenge the notion that these traits cannot be learned.

Action-Centred Leadership, designed by John Adair and perhaps one of the most recognisable leadership models today, certainly challenges this idea and suggests that effective leaders focus on three interconnected spheres of ‘needs’ - task, team and individual - that are imperative for success.

Having been focused on experiential learning for some time now, I have long been aware of Adair’s theory and used it with groups at a headline level. However, I recently had the opportunity to complete an Action-Centred Leadership accreditation course and the chance to really explore the model, and its application, in-depth.

In addition, I was also curious to see how it would fit with some of the other courses we run, such as Belbin Team Roles and Crucial Conversations. For me, one of the most interesting elements of studying leadership and team development theory is the opportunity to explore synergies with other models and how we can create a richer learning experience by blending these models together in an experiential environment.

Once I had completed the Action-Centred Leadership accreditation course, I was very keen to run my first programme and test my assertions concerning Belbin and Crucial Conversations. I facilitated two unique team-based indoor activities and I was delighted that firstly the session received very positive feedback and secondly that it highlighted exactly what I hoped it would.

For me, the strength of Action-Centred Leadership is how the seemingly simple model hides its subtle complexities; a metaphor for the application of the model.

For example, it is easy to focus on the needs of our day-to-day tasks and neglect the needs of, at times, either the team and/or individuals.  It seems so simplistic to say that we also need to also focus on team and individual and yet, in practice, it doesn’t always prove as easy as it sounds.

Part of this, I believe, is that we don’t always take into account how different we all are individually and, worse still, we don’t effectively communicate the impact of those differences. This is where I see strong links between Adair’s model, Belbin Team Roles and VitalSmarts’ Crucial Conversations.

By having an overall awareness of Task, Team and Individual needs, leaders have a framework to help them overcome the challenges they face such as team motivation, developing competence and internal conflict. By maintaining a higher-level outlook, the leader can then focus on the individual need requiring their attention; rather than becoming embedded in the task. 

In addition, by understanding our own team role (as well as the positive and negative traits associated with it) this allows us to contribute more effectively, which will have benefits under all three spheres.

Furthermore, if conflict arises because the stakes are high or perhaps opinions differ, then utilising the skills of Crucial Conversations to speak up effectively and have our true, well meaning, intentions understood will have a huge impact on the individuals concerned, the mutual purpose of the team and the successful completion of the task at hand.

As a trainer accredited in all three models, I believe that they all offer huge benefits on their own merits. However, through blended learning experiences that encompass a range of theoretical models, I feel we are even better placed to really empower individuals to develop their leadership skills and help teams and organisations to create real and sustainable change that improves results.

Nevertheless, just understanding the principles which underpin these three models isn't enough to create an effective leader. As John Adair wrote: "You are not a leader until your appointment has been ratified in the hearts and minds of those involved. It's when people start using the word leader about you that you, as it were, become a leader." Therefore, it is the application of the theory that will enhance your leadership skills and this is where I believe experiential learning is most impactful. 

Joe is a Master Trainer in Crucial Conversations, Accredited in Belbin and Action-Centred Leadership. In addition, he is an NLP Practitioner and a Certified Trainer in Crucial Accountability. Joe facilitates leadership development, team development and behaviour change training programmes across the globe. To discuss this blog with Joe, you can call him on 01962 779911 or email:

If you are interested in developing individuals or teams within your organisation by utilising the training models outlined above, you can email

By Joe Mackintosh, Senior Facilitator at Grahame Robb Associates Ltd. 

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